CRS Study: The History of US Efforts to Improve Intelligence

Roundup: Talking About History

Richard A. Best, Jr., Specialist in National Defense, Foreign Affairs, Defense, and Trade Division, in a new report by the Congressional Research Service (July 29, 2004):

Proposals for the reorganization of the United States Intelligence Community have repeatedly emerged from commissions and committees created by either the executive or legislative branches. The heretofore limited authority of Directors of Central Intelligence and the great influence of the Departments of State and Defense have inhibited the emergence of major reorganization plans from within the Intelligence Community itself.

Proposals to reorganize the Intelligence Community emerged in the period immediately following passage of the National Security Act of 1947 (P.L. 80-253) that established the position of Director of Central Intelligence (DCI) and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Recommendations have ranged from adjustments in the DCI’s budgetary responsibilities to the actual dissolution of the CIA and returning its functions to other departments. The goals underlying such proposals have reflected trends in American foreign policy and the international environment as well as domestic concerns about governmental accountability. In the face of a hostile Soviet Union, early intelligence reorganization proposals were more concerned with questions of efficiency. In the Cold War context of the 1950s, a number of recommendations sought aggressively to enhance U.S. covert action and counterintelligence capabilities. The chairman of one committee charged with investigating the nation’s intelligence capabilities, Army General James H. Doolittle, argued that sacrificing America’s sense of “fair play” was wholly justified in the struggle to prevent Soviet world domination.

Following the failed invasion of Cuba at the Bay of Pigs, the unsuccessful results of intervention in Vietnam, and the Watergate scandal, investigations by congressional committees focused on the propriety of a wide range of heretofore accepted intelligence activities that included assassinations and some domestic surveillance of U.S. citizens. Some forcefully questioned the viability of secret intelligence agencies within a democratic society. These investigations resulted in much closer congressional oversight and a more exacting legal framework for intelligence activities. At the same time, the growth in technical intelligence capabilities led to an enhanced — but by no means predominant — leadership role for the DCI in determining community-wide budgets and priorities. With the end of the Cold War, emerging security concerns, including transnational terrorism, narcotics trafficking, and proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, faced the United States. Some statutory changes were made in the mid-1990s, but their results were not far-reaching. In the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attacks and the Iraq War, some observers, as well as the 9/11 Commission, argue that there is a need to reconsider the organization of the Intelligence Community. Current intelligence organization issues can be usefully addressed with an awareness of arguments pro and con that were raised by earlier investigators. Specific bills aimed at reorganizing the nation’s intelligence effort have been introduced in the 108th Congress and will be addressed in future CRS products. This report will be updated as circumstances warrant....

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